In Studio With Dak & Co Designer Kayla Coté van Rensburg

I’ve seen Kayla Coté van Rensburg’s Dak & Co designs in stores, at pop-up shops and on clothing all over town, so I was happy when she got in touch via Instagram and we finally got together in real life. (It’s weird how many artists, writers and creatives I know via social media but have never actually met in person!)

I love trading stategies with other creative people and as I talked with Kayla over an excellent latte at Young Blood Coffee Co. it seemed obvious that we shared a similar outlook on life. That conversation also made me realize it was high time to revive the “In Studio” series that I used to do on this site, the one where I took a look inside the lives and routines of creative people I admire.

I always learn something when I do these features. I hope you’ll find this series interesting and learn something too, whether you create for a living or just for fun.

So here’s Kayla! (All words and images from this point until the bold text at the bottom of the page are provided by Kayla Coté van Rensburg.)
– Alicia

How do you describe the work that you do?
“Right now, I wear many hats, so the work varies from designing screen prints for shirts, to choosing new styles to bring into our shop. I also manage the creative direction of the brand, design marketing materials and merchandise the Pop up shop. I also coordinate any events or photoshoots we are a part of.”

How long have you been creating?
“Unofficially I’ve been creating since I was a kid. I was huge into drawing, and would illustrate my own comic strip to a prom fashion line, to a cartoon cat t.v. show concept I called “Meow Mix.”

I’ve been officially creating as a business since 2015, when I started freelance designing through my small business, Cote Creative.”

What’s your first memory of creating something?
“I wrote a children’s book series when I was around 5 or 6. The series was called ‘The Cherry Tree Girls’ and was a tale about two cherry trees which turned into girls who were sisters.”

Who or what has influenced your work?
“Some of my first influences were on the farm where I grew up. Nature inspired me – I was always outside adventuring.

Now I’m inspired by travel and experience. I like to go through beautiful shops and beautiful spaces to absorb new ideas, color schemes and the feeling the spaces evoke.”

How does your current audience respond to your work?
“My current audience is awesome. I love when they feel good with what I’m doing – and I feel great when I’m giving them something they can incorporate into their personal style.”

How does this compare with the reaction from people who are seeing your work for the first time?
“I’d say it’s similar. When someone comes through the Pop Up shop for the first time, I like to see them intrigued by the apparel. They often take a second look at the pieces and then say ‘Oh, I get it now! It’s Fargo…in a bison!'”

What materials do you prefer?
“Primarily a blend between graphic design and fabric.”

What’s your creative process like?
“I start with a concept or idea. I get tons of ideas, but it takes a real gem for me to pursue it fully. When I got the idea for Dak the Bison, I knew I wanted to follow it through. The same thing happened with North the Moose. My goal was to re-create the style of Dak, while also reaching a larger demographic.

Then I make a rough, I mean really rough, sketch. It’s just enough for me to remember the idea. After that, I refine the sketch by hand, and then upload it into a design program to refine it.

The refining process is my most time consuming process, especially for a mark like Dak or North. (It’s a real challenge to create an animal out of hand-letters. The goal is for the audience to see both the shape of the animal, and the word it forms.

Then I spent my second largest amount of time choosing styles and colors of the apparel for which the design is to go on. It’s a challenge, because there are so many moving parts. I have to think about things like fabric blends, colors and styles which are current to season trends and are ones that people will want to wear. I think of what I personally like, and then think of what the customer likes, and find the middle-ground to create something new and excitable, yet wearable and stylish.”

What inspires you?
“The stories I hear and the relationships I build with customers truly inspires me. I think this stems from my work as a graphic designer. I love the feeling of when I can create something that a customer can relate to and that makes them feel confident in who they are.”

What is your workspace like and how does it function for you?
“Haha, usually it’s my version of organized chaos – which is way different than my husband’s style of neat and orderly. I see the good in both. When we have our studio open to the public, he and I take a lot of time to merchandize and keep a tidy shop, it makes for a good experience for the customer. When the shop is a working studio, things can get messy. We do all of the printing in house, and often end up with screens and shirts in various places in the studio. The good thing about this is that it means we’re working on creating something awesome. I cherish both the chaos of the creation process, and the beauty of new products on the shelf for customers to enjoy.”

How do you arrange your life to honor your creativity?
“This is a constant work in progress. Sometimes life is messy, and that can hinder creativity. The key is to keep your head up, stay positive and keep faith in what you’re doing. Staying positive and on track of my goals fuels me. Sometimes it’s easy to be this way, other times it can be difficult. Having grace with myself, and with my husband is hugely important. the practice of staying focused on the goal is also important. Visualizing the goal, writing it and talking about it with my husband keeps it real in my mind and helps me accept creative slumps as what they are – something that will come and go with time.”

How do you balance your art with the other parts of your life?
“Sometimes I struggle pulling my mind out of work mode, which impacts my personal life. It’s easy to get lost in an idea and push so hard because you want the world to see it. But sometimes that doesn’t go my way. I’m learning to be ok with that, and that things sometimes don’t happen on my timeline. Again, grace comes in. I actually feel more productive if I give myself grace when things aren’t going as fast or as successfully as I would like.”

How do you stay creative while also running a business?
“This is a tough one! I think embracing my work flow and understanding my thought process has helped me blend these two more successfully than I have done in the past. I’ve learned that taking breaks when needed helps fuel my creative and business mindsets. I focus on staying authentic and understanding myself and being OK with myself and my workflow.”

What’s necessary to live a creative life?
“Creativity fuels the mind and the soul. As humans, we are designed to create. We are designed as an image of the Divine Creator, so naturally we are creative. Creativity doesn’t mean you have to be able to paint like Picasso, it’s more about finding small ways to bring creativity into your life. Try a new recipe, take a dance class with a friend or parter, take a walk through a place that inspires you that you’ve never been in. Be curious and open to creativity. And don’t worry if it’s not perfect, simply enjoy it for what it is: personal creative growth.”

Kayla and her husband Piet work together to promote Dak and Co.

Why is it important to support other artists?
“We need to lift each other up. As an artist, I tend to get in my own head and that can be good or bad. When it’s bad, I may end up stifling or quitting an idea that could actually turn out pretty good. I usually long for someone to come along and tell me I’m onto something, and to keep it up. When those moments do happen, and someone tells me an encouraging thought, it fuels me to keep going. I figured, if I’m wanting that, other creatives may be feeling that way as well. I stay mindful of that thought, which makes it easy to remember to show the same support to others.”

Which artists do you admire?
“Coco Chanel – With quotes like ‘Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable,’ and ‘A girl should be two things: Who and what she wants.’ Coco is one not only an incredible creative, she is a legend as a businessperson. She is a great example and leader for embracing who you are and turning that into success. I refer back to her quotes whenever I need encouragement to keep going.”

What are you working on now?
“Currently I’m working on the Dak & Co spring line, which is focused on the wearer, and celebrates their own personal style. Our spring line includes the new “North the Moose.” and Dakota Girl inspirational quote apparel, as well as our classic logo tees and Dak the Bison Fargo apparel. We’re mixing it up our palette this spring with some fun spring trends as well as a neutral, chic palette.”

What do you want to do next?
“We’re feeling pretty good about our product line, so our next focus will be continuing to fine-tune our branding. Proper branding is crucial for any business’s success, especially in a creative businesses. We often overlook the importance of the image we portray to our customers and both are important to business growth. And I’m happy to be able to spend some time focusing on building the brand’s look and feel by focusing more on what makes our customers feel awesome.”

What are you passionate about?
“I’m passionate on making people feel great about themselves. In my first couple of years of business it was hard to wrap my brain around the fact that owning a business has nothing to do with me, but it has everything to do with who I serve. Once I was able to wrap my brain around that concept, I found it much easier to serve in a productive way.”

Why do you think people respond to handcrafted items?
“Handcrafted items come from the heart. You know that every item was made with love and intentionality. This makes me feel especially great when I can gift something handmade to a friend. For example, this spring I’m in a wedding, and my gift to the bride is a custom made shawl to compliment her gown. I love the idea of creating something especially for her on the most memorable day of her life.”

What does being an artist mean to you?
“Being an artist to me means always creating and pushing my limits. It’s about staying fresh, experimenting with new concepts and ideas.”

What do you wish people knew about your line of work?
“A huge amount of time goes into the conceptualizing and creating process. Like in most creative businesses, people often only see the end result, which in our case is a shirt on a rack. What they don’t see is the time that went into designing not only the graphics, but the shirt colors and styles as well. We spend a lot of time researching designs and styles which resinate best with our customers. We like to keep them excited about what we’re coming out with next.”

What do you hope people take away from experiencing your work?
“We simply want them to feel good when they’re wearing the product. We want them to feel comfortable in what their wearing, and feel encouraged to express themselves and make the piece their own. We love seeing how people work the pieces into their personal style. It fuels us to keep going and keep creating.”

What about you?
What did you learn from this story?
How do you incorporate creativity into your own life?
What does being an artist or a creative mean to you?
What do you create right now?
What would you like to create in the future?
How can this website help you in your creative endeavors?
Want to be featured in an upcoming “In Studio” story? Just drop me a line below!

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